More hot Little Bunting and pussy action

Now there’s a blog title. If that shameless attempt at luring sad wankers (and frustrated adolescents) to my swell my blog’s visitor-roll doesn’t work, I don’t know what will. Enjoy.

Covered most of the isle today, though not I think seeing an enormous amount that was actually new in – but plenty of recycled birds from previous days. A Brambling in my tattie yard first thing had presumably relocated from a few hundred yards away (and had moved on to the heligoland kale yard later on); and the Black Redstart JLI found yesterday on my drive was still there, mainly in the vicinity of the dead black feral cat by the foot of the drive. I feel a note to BB coming on…

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Working my way down the isle just turned up a few Goldcrests, Robins and yet more Bramblings, but the latter mainly still in the places and numbers I’d seen them a week ago. Feeling a little disillusioned (but obscurely heartened by the lack of news from elsewhere in Shetland) I went to see the Little Bunting JLI and I found a couple of days ago. The perfect antidote, it was showing well.

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Little Bunting doing straining

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Little Bunting doing a Holloway

Little Bunting doing being plain lovely

Also nearby the same Lesser Whitethroat we saw 2 days ago.

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Back home for lunch, and to dig some tatties I’d promised JLI and family for their Sunday lunch. Climbing into the yard, and there in front of me was a new Little Bunting. Result. Less resultful was it taking off, dropping briefly into a patch of weeds, and then going over the hill and towards the more sheltered heligoland yard. Heyho. A brief but significant bird for me – 102 on the house yearlist. Met up with JLI in the afternoon, delivered said tatties and some cabbagey stuff too, and after a beer to fortify ourselves it was back out into the field to give Brough a good going over. Brough delivered as usual, with a female Redstart and 2 Ring Ouzels (male and a female). All of which could easily be semi-residents, as have all been seen in Brough in the past week already. Oh, and a Chiffchaff, to which we didn’t need to play tristis calls in order to eliminate, er, tristis. ;)

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And so the day ended. Or rather, not quite… Back home for tea and crumpets, and time to get the dogs in from their dog-run for the night. And what should greet me when I went to the dog-run door? A hugely excited lurcher, and a freshly killed feral cat. Daisy Dingo clearly got a taste for pussy after the August feral cat kill, and had struck again with another of the small black feral numbers that have been lurking about the place recently, and this afternoon had shown the spectacular ill-judgement of slinking into the Dingo’s dog-run. That’s 2 down in the past 2 days – one road-kill, and one dog-kill – and given how attractive 1 dead cat was proving to be this morning for a Black Redstart, imagine what sort of chat 2 dead cats together might attract tomorrow…

The owl in a south-easterly came off the sea…

Working from home today, and so limited in the main to looking wistfully out of the window from time to time. Actually, not that wistfully as the weather was absolutely vile for a lot of the day – vile that is from a comfortable, desk-monkey perspective. From a birder’s viewpoint, it looks promising for the next few days. If the wind and rain ease off, there’ll be rare birds coming out of the woodwork all over Shetland. South-easterlies and rain in mid October are the dream ticket.

My window-gazing wasn’t completely fruitless, as mid-morning something large and brown went past at a hell of a clip, pursued by 2 Hooded Crows. Raptor, surely… I legged it outside and scanned the area desperately. The crows gave the game away, and there below the road was a Long-eared Owl on a drystone dyke, doing its very best to ignore the local hoodies. I had enough time to drive down and get a few photos at long-range before it noticed the plantation and dived in for cover. A shame I didn’t have longer, as I could have made an effort before it went into cover and skulked up a bit closer for some really nice pictures.

LEO! LE-E-E-O! I want a LEO and I want one now...

Strange that I wait nearly 5 and a half years to add Long-eared Owl to the houselist, and then I see 2 in the space of 6 months.

Owl doing looking

Some extremely good surprises in the post today as well – the latest British Birds (including the BBRC annual rarities report), and Birding World. Nice to see all my birds from last year duly endorsed, and a watercolour from my Hume’s Warbler submission had made its way into the rarities report too.  Birding World was particularly pleasing – 5 of my photos have been used this month – American Golden Plover and Sandhill Crane on Orkney, and Taiga Flycatcher here in Shetland. I’m delighted to see them in print – I can’t be making too bad a job of this point and shoot business!

Veery, Pechora Pipit, Chiffchaff…

Spent most of the day out birding, mainly with a Shetland Wildlife group who’d come into Whalsay to see the still-present Veery and Pechora Pipit, and latterly with another fresh batch of twitchers here for the same reason. The Veery remains extremely elusive, though with patience it shows well intermittently. You really have to be in the right place at the right time to get views of it out in the open – it spends most of its time skulking in the heavily vegetated flower borders. I came within a whisker of catching it when it flew into a fruit cage – not knowing which end of the cage was open, I had to choose at random which way to try to get in – and chose the wrong end, so watched the bird fly past mere inches away and out into the garden. BM therefore missed an immense ringing tick. Got a couple more photos – the flight one a record shot of the underwing, the others just gratuitous Veery porn.

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The Pechora was still lobbing around in its favoured damp ditches and vegetable yard, though evidently not as confiding as in previous days. Maybe a reflection of the close attention it has been given. Today’s twitchers were to a man well-behaved, and a complete pleasure to meet and get onto the birds. Shame they’re not all like that!


The only other migrant species I saw all day was a solitary Chiffchaff. With yet more individuals found today, I think Pechora Pipit remains the commonest migrant currently in Shetland.

Later. Just been outside to check the hens were shut away for the night – it’s cold, clear, still, and a full moon. Odds any of these birds will still be here in the morning?

Whalsay Veery gallery

Some more shots today of the Veery. No time to do a write-up of yesterday, as the weather outside is fine, and I need to get out birding again. Have got a compellingly convincing description from a non-birder of a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll nearby to continue to chase up. More later, maybe.

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Taiga Flycatcher, Fetlar

Just a quick blog tonight – to upload a photo of the Taiga Flycatcher I took my Shetland Wildlife party to see on Fetlar this morning. Top bird.

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More photos to follow in due course.

Later. A couple more photos. The bird was a real show-off once the rain stopped and the sun came out, and performed brilliantly for the perfectly behaved assembled birders (a big Shetland twitch this, some 20 people gathered to see it). People held back, and the bird clearly felt it had enough space to go about its business unhindered, and in the open. My second Taiga Flycatcher, and both in Shetland – this time far more satisfying views than the first bird. Everyone went away delighted – the question being whether having been present for some days before being positively identified as a Taiga, the bird will go away itself tonight as the conditions for migration seem perfect as I type – a light northerly breeze, clear skies, and a bright moon.

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taiga, taiga burning bright

Otter spotter

Finished a thoroughly enjoyable 3 day tour yesterday – building on the spectacular start of Killer Whales at sea, we found 5 (yes, five… count ‘em!) Otters the following day – and particularly enjoyed sitting in the sunshine eating our lunch while these 2 characters fished for their lunch a few metres offshore, and watched us watching them:

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Other highlights included several encounters with Crossbills, including a flock of 20 birds we found on roadside wires, and then feeding in amongst the thistles beneath. No wing-barred individuals in amongst them, just to prove my speculative theory entirely wrong.

More underwhelming from a visitor’s perspective, but of note as a midsummer record were a pair of Woodpigeons in Nesting. Migrants?

Hunting with the Killer Whales

Another utterly mindblowing encounter today with Killer Whales… leading a Shetland Wildlife group, we’d no sooner got on our first boat trip of the weekend than we were watching a pod of 4 Killer Whales hunting slowly along the Bressay coast. With some excellent fieldcraft from the Seabirds & Seals crew, our boat was soon positioned up ahead of them, and we watched them as they came towards us (and some nearby seals hauled out on the rocks). Oblivious to us, they passed us by.



We repeated the flanking manoeuvre over and over again, giving them a wide berth before waiting quietly for them to come to us. Fabulous views every time.


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Two particularly stunning moments amongst all this – firstly when we could see a Grey Seal in the water watching us, oblivious to the whales coming around the corner a little way away. They dived, surfaced right next to the seal, which promptly dived in turn, closely followed by them. No evidence of a kill though came to the surface.

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The second moment was especially good – and the hairs go up on the back of my neck as I recall this and put it on screen. The four of them came straight at us, dived at the last possible moment, and stayed down for a while. Up on the top of boat, I could see them moving beneath the water – circling the boat, and in turn rolling onto their sides underwater to look up at us. They then surfaced on the other side of the boat to their initial dive, and carried on down the coast, their curiosity seemingly satisfied.

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My party were, needless to say, blown away. ;)

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Some more recent Killer Whale photos

Am making no apologies for posting more photos of our recent Killer Whales – can you ever have enough cetaceans? I think not. These ones courtesy of DB – thank you, David.

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Another day, some more White-sided Dolphins

How many people can watch White-sided Dolphins from the comfort of their desk at work? I can. Or at least, this morning I could. It’s not an everyday occurence, even up here where the usual rules about sea mammal sightings being few and far between don’t really apply.

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Got a phone call just as I was getting to grips with the first coffee of the day to say there was a pod of White-sided Dolphins heading north through Lerwick harbour. A quick look out of the window and there they were, breaching with the usual White-sided Dolphin energy and vigour. Visible for about 5 minutes before moving south and away from us, heading right up to the shore of Bressay.

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Managed some record shots, but can’t wait to see the photos coming off Dunter III – the Seabirds and Seals tour boat had the pod pass right beside them, to the evident delight of their passengers. I’ll be out with them again this Saturday, so fingers crossed for reasonable weather and some cetaceans.

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Killer Whale photo update

A very quiet weekend – Crossbills still lobbing around the place, and settling in to roost in the plantation yesterday evening as I drove past on my way to play pool with JLI. Apart from them, not much of note occuring. Lapwings now forming loose flocks of a dozen or so birds, and young Oystercatchers now feeding on the lawn outside the kitchen window. I got some crofty stuff done, most important task being the systematic squishing of Large White eggs and caterpillars on those of my cabbages that aren’t under Enviromesh. The last thing I want are those being reduced to skeletons before the autumn.

A couple of Killer Whale photos from a fortnight ago, courtesy of GH – thanks, Gary.


In case you’re wondering, the guy standing in the cage at the front of the rib is not some mentalist trying to catch 7 tons of bull Killer Whale in a shrimp net. Though it does look that way. The truth is far more proasic – he’s waiting to net some Killer Whale droppings. Yes dear reader, Shetland cares so much about it’s marine environment that responsible Killer Whale owners are required to clean up after their pets. What at first glance appears to be a rockpooling net is in fact a state of the art pooper scooper.

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There I was thinking that the life of a Killer Whale researcher looked pretty damn glamorous – fast boats, close encounters with large marine predators… and all the meantime the poor sods are charging around collecting Killer Whale shit to analyse what the big dolphins have been eating. In the case of this particular pod, I’m guessing seals mainly. With the occasional duck appetiser – we watched the pod cruise around a voe that afternoon, leaving a pair of distressed adult Shelducks on the sea with a couple of young, where before they’d had nearly ten.


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